July 24, 2018

Lionsgate Founder Condemns U.S. Family Separations as “Fear-Based”

As Americans debate a controversial family separation policy at the U.S.-Mexico border, Lionsgate founder Frank Giustra warns a “fear-based” narrative has stoked political tensions over a growing refugee and migrant crisis worldwide.

“I always wonder what hardliners without compassion for the issue would feel if it was their own children, how they would expect to be treated if something horrific happened to them, if they would have to cross a border with nothing left, and they worried about one thing, the security of their children — and their children were then ripped away from them,” Giustra told The Hollywood Reporter.

He was speaking ahead of an Aug. 1 screening in Los Angeles of his latest film, Inside My Heart, a feature documentary by Canadian director Debra Kellner that humanizes the global refugee crisis by following three families fleeing war-torn Syria and Afghanistan. “I wonder where that gets lost in this conversation about human beings who are hurting and suffering. The worst nightmare for any parent is to have their children ripped away from them,” Giustra added.

As his Radcliffe Foundation continues humanitarian work in Canada and abroad, in part with Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation, Giustra recounted producing Inside My Heart after a November 2015 visit to the Greek island of Lesbos where he found himself bringing ashore terrified Syrian refugees after they made a risky crossing from Turkey.

“We’re emptying this boat and this woman hands me her two- year-old toddler and I’m holding this kid on a beach and I’m speechless. I’m stunned. Everyone was crying and praying and rejoicing that they’d had made it across alive,” Giustra, who soon after reunited the mother and her child, recalled.

“And that was the moment that did it for me. I thought, ‘What if these were my children? What if I were in this situation?’ You’d be scared to death for the safety of your children,” Giustra said.

After another charitable foundation he runs with Bill Clinton, the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, did earlier poverty relief and HIV prevention work, Giustra’s Radcliffe Foundation went on to open a new housing facility in Thessaloniki, Greece, to accommodate children and their families fleeing war-torn regions in the Middle East.

And Giustra more recently partnered with George and Amal Clooney’s Clooney Foundation for Justice to help educate Syrian refugee children in Lebanon, with financial backing from Google. But that hasn’t been enough for Giustra, who sees Inside My Heart as the next best thing to witnessing Europe’s refugee crisis firsthand.

“I’ve gone back to the region many times (since 2015) and taken people with me and they all come back saying the same thing: ‘I didn’t think their lives are like our own.’ Their children went to school. They had jobs and careers and hopes and dreams. And it was all taken away from them,” Giustra said.

Inside My Heart as a fly-on-the-wall documentary follows the three families as they continue their fight to stay alive in Europe as refugees, unable to return home without the risk of being killed, and struggling to pick up the pieces of broken dreams. “It’s us eavesdropping on their lives. You get into those lives. You feel their emotions, their frustrations and the boredom of sitting in the camps, and what they want for their children,” Giustra explained.

He also sees the film as an antidote to conspiracy theories finding their way into the conversation around a growing global refugee crisis, none of which is making his humanitarian work any easier. “I want to overcome this narrative being promoted around the world, not just in the U.S., that these people are evil, job-stealers, rapists, murderers. Those labels are so incorrect. Most of these people are women and children,” he argued.

Giustra, who has a major stake in Canadian indie producer Thunderbird Entertainment, executive producer of Alcon Entertainment’s recent Blade Runner 2049 sequel, adds “fear-based” labels stop refugees and migrants in turmoil from eventually securing sanctuary and resettlement.

Giustra’s solution is public-private refugee sponsorship programs, which his foundation is pursuing along with the Canadian government, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.

Under the program, those seeking asylum first pass through several layers of approval and screening by the UNHCR, before arriving in Canada for resettlement under the sponsorship of ordinary Canadians, including community or church groups. ”

“Canada is a country known for compassion. And this model is something we’ve had for a long time, and it just happens a lot of countries around the world want to adopt it,” Giustra said.

Starting with the Vietnamese boat people, Canada has resettled around 400,000 refugees since 1979, including about 30,000 Syrian refugees during the last two years. “We’ve had this great experience in Canada. And if that succeeds in other countries, people will see refugees differently, because the headlines are now filled with fear-based, not factual, information,” Giustra added.

Giustra, a one-time investment banker who made his fortune in global mining, launched Lionsgate in 1997 to capitalize on Vancouver’s growing film industry.

He stepped down as CEO in 2000 and sold most of his stake in the company three years later to a consortium led by current CEO Jon Feltheimer and vice chairman Michael Burns. Giustra got back in business with Lionsgate after The Hunger Gamesstudio and Thunderbird Entertainment launched Sea to Sky Entertainment, a film and TV partnership.

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